Does the $20 Shopping Plan Still Work?


A couple of years ago, I wrote an article about how one person could feed him or herself for $20. 

That article went kind of viral, and to this day, it’s the most trafficked page on The Frugal Farm Wife. In fact, maybe that’s how you found me (hi there!). 

Not surprisingly, it got its fair share of negative feedback and still does. 

Image shows the arm of a woman pushing a shopping card full of produce. Text overlay reads "Does the $20 Shopping Plan Still Work?"

Some of the complaints it gets?

This list isn’t organic

No, it never claims to be organic. The sad truth is that you can’t trust the organic label, and it often isn’t worth paying the price for. I firmly believe that foods can still be healthy without organic labeling.

These prices are lower than I can find in my area. 

Yes, some areas are more expensive, and that forces you to be more creative. If your area has an Aldi food store, I highly recommend checking it out. If not, check out any and all other stores in your area. We have one store, and one store only, where we can get butter for under $2 a pound. It’s 60 miles away in Waco, so we don’t go very often, but when we do, we. stock. up. And because of that, the butter we eat every day costs less than $2/lb.

Image shows a hand holding a receipt from Aldi, with a total price of $112.56

That grocery list names chicken leg quarters at $0.95/lb, and to this day, that’s the price you can get them at Aldi – every day. But we found that by waiting for the chicken to go on sale at our local mom-and-pop grocery store (I think it’s a Lowe’s Food Store now), we can get it MUCH cheaper. And, of course, we stock up with as much as our freezer can hold when it does. Though we typically pay $.59-$.79/lb, I’ve seen it go as low as $.29. 

Shredded cheddar cheese has gone up from $.18 per ounce to $.20 per ounce. I’m not sure if that price increase is due to the inflation of time or because we changed locations (the original list was created when we lived near Nashville; now we live near Stephenville, Texas), but since in this area, the butter, corn tortillas, bananas, and frozen veggies are cheaper, even without counting the cheaper chicken, we ultimately still come out ahead. 

We also picked up ten pounds of potatoes last week for $1.50, whereas the $20 shopping list allows for $2.89. 

Y’all, I know that the cost of living in some areas is much higher than in others, and I totally sympathize!

Image shows a little girl helping a woman carry a paper grocery bag full of vegetables.

So, with all that said, here are some tips that can save you grocery money regardless of where you live:

  1. Stay away from high end stores. Harris Teeter, Whole Foods, and even Kroger are expensive. I love them, but I can’t afford to shop there. Instead, look for Aldi, Save-A-Lot, discount stores, and mom-and-pop stores where the sales can be fantastic. You may have to drive a little further to get to these stores, but in many cases, they’re well worth it!
  2. Get in touch with sales cycles. Grocery prices are like the moon—they tend to wax and wane throughout the month. Keep a sharp eye out and get familiar with the sales cycles of things you use a lot of.
  3. Learn to cook from scratch. You’ve probably heard it before, but it’s so true! Ingredients are much cheaper than prepared foods. Period. 
  4. Don’t be afraid to stock up. That butter we stock up on whenever we’re in Waco? That’ll keep forever(ish) in the freezer, so I have no problem buying an entire box of it when I go. Yes, it hurts to shell out that much money at one time, but then I don’t have to pay for butter again for six months, so it’s all okay.

    There are a LOT of things like that that will keep in your pantry, refrigerator, or freezer for a surprisingly long time (raise your hand if you’ve ever “lost” a package of carrots in your refrigerator for who-knows-how-many months – and they were still good when you found them). 

YES, you can make the $20 meal plan work. …But it’s up to you to find the determination to make it happen. 

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  1. thank you for the update and the encouragement. There isn’t anything in your article that I don’t agree with. In fact, the only real issue I came across this week: I found leg quarters for .29/lb. but you had to buy 10 lb. packs. That’s all good, but it was all frozen together so I didn’t buy it. I have since decided to go ahead and make the purchase and cook all of it all at once. I can always de-bone and make freezer meals and plan ahead.

    Those are the kinds of things you are suggesting. Again – thanks for the encouragement 🙂 Looking forward to cutting my grocery bill even further.

    1. Thanks Edi! Yes, that’s pretty much what I have to do when I find the super cheap 10# chicken packages. That or eat chicken all week! LOL

  2. It cracks me up reading some of the comments posted on sites like these. It’s like they don’t get what you’re doing; providing a general idea on how to shop frugally. Results will be different depending on where you live. I happen to live in a small town in Washington State, with two small grocery stores. They’re pretty expensive to shop at on their own, but shop both stores during their sales, and I can get some pretty good deals. Are they as good as the ones in the city? Probably not, but I factor in fuel costs and my time to drive 40-70 mi. each week and I’m sure I’d be spending about the same amount of money. My favorite store to shop at when I can is Grocery Outlet. You never know what you’ll find there and the prices are uber cheap 🙂 Thanks for the great article, I’m inspired to be more frugal 🙂

    1. I am a HUGE fan of the United Grocery Outlet too! I love the hunt. It’s so fun and you never know what kind of bargain you are going to find. Between that and Aldi, I can feed my family of 6 for $70 a week.

  3. I know where you are coming from and encouragement to learn to can would be a great savings too.
    Over ripe items at farmers markets or veggie stores are super to check out.

  4. I read your previous article about the $20-per-week plan…and I really appreciated it! I’m sorry it got any negative feedback at all. Keep up the good work, Elise! 🙂

  5. Thank you for these tips and insight. I usually shop at Kroger, but last week an Aldi opened close to us, so I definitely need to check it out. I am buying groceries to serve 10 people on a weekly basis and usually spend between $250 to $400/week. It makes me cringe, especially since I buy very little meat there. I buy most meat at Sam’s and freeze it or cook it and freeze it.

  6. When my husband was in college in the 80s we had 4 boys under 12 and a mortgage. We didn’t want to ask our families for help because after all who got us into this mess? LOL My husband was retired from the AF and got 1/2 to 3/4 GI Bill which was a total of $9,000 a year and we did that for 4 years. Our kids were happy and no one was ever hungry. We ate oatmeal for breakfast, PBJ for lunch and lots of chicken and hamburger for dinners. We drank milk with our meals and water when we were thirsty. I was spending about $40 a week for 6 people and that included cleaning and laundry supplies. One of those years we went to Disneyland for 3 days with discount tickets and camped in a county park in Riverside for $5 a night. I cooked our meals ahead, froze them and took them in an ice chest. It can be done if you want to do it. My parents both came from poor families that worked hard (my mother’s family lived year round on the money they made as a family picking cotton, fruit and vegetables from May to September) and I grew up knowing how to make a budget stretch. Our kids remember those 4 years and the fun we had and still talk about it. THEY know they can do it too if they ever need to.

  7. I don’t think people understand that $20 a week per a person is totally doable! You just have to be creative and have a will to work at it. I know alot of people have allergies but most of the time its cheaper and healthier to just go without then to replace it with an expensive alternative.

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